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'A new occupant at Heaven's Press Table'

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Community mourns the loss of long-time CKNJ Sports Editor, local athletics historian Bobby Brockman

By Richard RoBards

 

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I usually don’t make mental notes for stories I think I’ll never write. So with a 10-year head start on life, I figured a story about the death of long-time friend and CKNJ Sports Editor Bobby Brockman might become someone else’s responsibility.

But sometimes life throws you that unhittable slider, and the news of Bobby’s passing this past Sunday punched me out with my bat still on my shoulder.

Bobby and I go way back, so far that I can't remember exactly when or where. But chances are it was at a game. I do recall he was a high school sophomore interested in sports, and I was the brand new sports editor at The News-Journal. It had to be sometime in 1972.

As the manager for several of Campbellsville High’s sports teams, Bobby’s game stats were invaluable. He was engaging, and everyone seemed to like him. He also worked on the high school newspaper — The Eagle Cry — and spent time at the newspaper office during publication deadline. It didn’t hurt our relationship that, at the time, I was driving an orange (not exactly the Tennessee hue) VW Super Beetle. We enjoyed a two-year run — Bobby supplying free information, me writing stories.

Jerry Parker, who coached Eagle basketball at the time, said Bobby loved to deal with numbers, and team stats turned out to be his calling card.

Bobby and I left Campbellsville about the same time in 1974 — me to Springfield, Ky., where I accepted a managerial position at The Springfield Sun, and he to Knoxville, Tenn., where he was manager for the Tennessee basketball team under then-coach Ray Mears. It was the Ernie Grunfield/Bernard King era, and Bobby enjoyed a lot of success — along with everyone else associated with the Volunteers.

“I put Coach Mears on Bobby’s trail,” said Parker. “Bobby was pretty serious about his work, and that’s what Mears was looking for.”

According to Parker, Mears was on the cutting edge of practice and game stats, and Bobby hit the ground running.

“They had a different way of keeping stats that nobody else did,” said Parker. “Nobody could outwork Bobby, and he loved it.”

While at Tennessee, Bobby made friends with Kevin Nash, a UT basketball player who later became a World Wrestling Federation (WWF) super star. As the story goes … Sarge Pollock and a young Fruit of the Loom supervisor by the name of Mark Brazil, went to a WWF match in Freedom Hall back in the 90s.

Pollock made a sign for the arena that read “HEY NASH, I KNOW BOBBY BROCKMAN!”

Thinking that there was zero chance that the sign could be read in a packed arena by a wrestler with hundreds of other signs ... luck would have it that Nash enters the ring, looks around and spies the sign.

“He points directly at us in the lower level crowd,” said Pollock, “and says (by reading his lips) ... ‘I know him!’ It was awesome!

“After the match, the two of us talked our way past security to tell them that we shared a mutual friend. They let us stand in a crowd where the wrestlers’ limos and vehicles were leaving. As Nash’s limo was passing by, he rolled down the window and said: ‘Tell Bobby hello for me.’ It was truly an unreal experience!”

Bobby hid his allegiances as best he could, but everyone suspected that his closet might conceal a not-so-secret wardrobe of orange and maybe a hint of purple and gold.

When Campbellsville won a football region this past season, head coach Dale Estes gave him a hoodie commemorating the title. Bobby was concerned, almost afraid, to wear it in public … feared he’d breech the unwritten law of objectivity that loomed large in a town with competing high schools. Bobby was happy for the success any school achieved. He would have felt the same had he been offered something similar from TCHS. Heck, he never turned down a free shirt.

 “Bobby had a big heart behind all of his T-shirts, sweatshirts, zip-up sweats and hoodies that most people didn’t get to see,” offered Pollock.

“He never wanted the attention on a great story but was willing to give his opinion, especially if you asked for it. Bobby and I have had several talks and memories over the years, but those ‘off-the-record’ talks where I got to see that big heart were the best ones, and I will always cherish those.

“Serving this community through a camera and ink pen over these years will never be forgotten, just like his love for his family and friends.”

“I was always on him lightheartedly about giving all his ink to Taylor County and the University of Louisville,” added his friend, Lanny Parrott.

Bobby and I talked a lot about sports back in the day, and by the time we were reacquainted in 1985, I was manager of the CKNJ and he was working a mere 100 yards away at Central Drug. Someone vacated the sports desk, and he applied for the same sports editing position at the CKNJ, a spot where I had spent so many late-night hours doing what he was about to do.

Bobby had no official schooling in sports writing or photography, but in so many ways he was built for the job. He may be the most productive hire I ever made. A lot of folks could match his loyalty and dedication, but no one else could come close to complementing his work schedule – nights, days and weekends. His breadth of local sports knowledge is legendary, but it didn’t end there.

He could carry on a conversation with anyone on virtually any sports-related topic and many topics unrelated to Xs and Os.

“Bobby was one of my dearest friends,” said Barry Bertram. “His many unusual qualities included a phenomenal memory. He was well qualified to do sports for any major publication.

“I had a friend who played basketball at Purdue. He had met Bobby and told him about a grandson who was a catcher for Mississippi State who was drafted by a big league team but playing AA ball. Bobby knew about him and texted me to say he was traded to another team. I called my friend a little later and mentioned the trade. “How do you know that?” was his response. Clearly, Bobby knew before his family! 

“His iPhone certainly had a wealth of information that Bobby could glean immediately. He would text me about the stats of our granddaughter who plays for Belmont almost before the game was over. His friendship and phenomenal knowledge of sports will be sorely missed.”

Parrott, who snow birds in Florida nearly six months of the year, looked forward to a weekly call from “The Brock.”

“He’s been keeping me up on sports for the past 20 years,” Parrott said from his Florida home. “We’d chat once a week. If I wanted to know something — a record, or game score — all I had to do is get on the phone and talk to him.

“Jeff’s Food Mart won’t be the same now without him.”

I retired from newspaper work in 2008, but that didn’t stop me from crossing paths with Bobby two or three times a week at Jeff’s, a local eatery and boiling pot for semi interesting and sometimes controversial conversation. Bobby would show up, order a sandwich and hold court with a bunch of the regulars.

Bobby was in his element there. He’d offer his opinions (of which he had many) but basically provide the oil for the water of conversation that ran like an open faucet five days a week.

Don Shaw, who coached baseball at Taylor County High and was a regular at Jeff’s, counted on Bobby.

“He was updated on everybody, where they were and what they were doing. If, by chance, he didn’t know the answer, it wouldn’t be long before he found out.”

On Twitter, Julian Tackett, Commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said: “Stunned to learn of the passing of Bobby Brockman. A legend around Campbellsville and the 5th Region for both the college and Central Kentucky News-Journal. Bobby was a fine man and passionate writer and fan. His death leaves a hole here on earth but a new occupant at Heaven’s press table.”

Bobby’s idea of a vacation would be to travel to Burkesville, Ky., every July with a softball team he recruited — made up of aging area jocks trying to remain competitive and extend their athletic careers.

Pollock was one of his former players.

“Bobby was my softball coach, and Jesse Mings and Wayne Cox were his assistants. “One of the first weekends Bobby went with us, we were at a tournament in Muncie, Ind.

“Needless to say it was 2:00 in the morning, and our team was fixing to get in a fight with the team we were playing. The softball bug bit Bobby, and for the next 15 years he coached some of the top softball teams in the country.”

The impressive thing about his coaching career wasn’t his success with the team, but that he could do it and still cover sports like he was doing it from a recliner. He met a lot of people through softball, and his network of friends and acquaintances just kept multiplying. Toward the end of his sports editing career, he was covering the children of the players he formerly coached. If you didn’t know Bobby Brockman, you didn’t play or coach a sport in central Kentucky.

For a number of years Bobby was a fixture at City/County Park (now Veterans Memorial Park) where, working without an official title, he would help coordinate church, coed and open leagues. He taught his girls how to keep a scorebook, and they all stayed busy several nights a week.

Farrah Sullivan McLean, former Taylor County and Campbellsville University basketball player, said: “Many gyms around the area will have an empty front-row spot come game time this week. He’s been a constant for many local games for as long as I’ve played.

“We lost a great man in our community with the passing of Bobby Brockman. From the time I played sports in middle school through college to coaching, Bobby has always been there for sports in our community. Always a smile, a laugh, a sports story, and an ear to a coach on how a game had gone or how it had fallen apart.

“I’m so glad that maybe those B-ball Gods had a little hand in letting his UT Vols he loved so much win one last time for him over those UK Wildcats. I’m sure he went to bed happy. No doubt he was greeted by many local coaches and athletes as he arrived in Heaven!”

Many people were moved by Bobby’s passing.

“I was heartbroken when I heard the news Sunday morning of the passing of Bobby Brockman,” said Campbellsville boys’ basketball coach Tim Davis. “Bobby and I have worked together for over 30 years, and we really grew closer the last 10 years, not only through him covering our athletics at CHS, but as a dear friend. 

“Bobby was a wealth of knowledge of all sports, past and the present. I once told him, ‘Bobby, I can’t remember what happened in a game a month ago and you can remember what happened in a game 30 years ago, who it was and what happened.’  He responded, ‘Just useless knowledge.’

“I told him it wasn’t useless knowledge if someone wanted to know the answer,” continued Davis. “And if you wanted an answer concerning any sporting event or athlete, he could remember and most of the time knew the answer before someone could ‘Google it.’

“I will miss our lunches together, his coverage of our athletic events, and just sitting and talking sports.”

Sports, and life in general, have changed so much since 1985. The birth of the cell phone and the explosion of social media set all us old-schoolers back on our heels. Bobby’s list of iPhone contacts bridged an enormous gap … with the likes of PGA golf professional J.B. Holmes, to that of George Ray Bailey. Bailey, a bicycle-riding, lawn-mowing man of color, counted on Bobby to supply him a schedule each year of all the college (especially Louisville) games. Bobby did it dutifully for 30 years. George Ray would stick his head in the front door, and Bobby would say: “Just a minute, George Ray. I have your schedule right here.”

But most of the time Bobby’s desk looked like a hand grenade had been set off in the Library of Congress, so George Ray would entertain whatever receptionist had front-desk duty at the time while Bobby fumbled around in stacks of old media guides.

Bobby may have been a step slow (OK, two steps) at embracing social media. Maybe he was just trying to protect what he was originally hired to safeguard? But at some point, with some prodding, he reluctantly discovered that Twitter was a pretty good way of posting game scores in-between editions of the newspaper. He didn’t friend up with anyone in the Twitter world, but he did use it. You need not bother to ask him about Facebook. His social network was Jeff’s Food Mart. That’s where his personal technology led him. I have personally refrained from posting anything about his death on either Twitter or Facebook out of respect for his dislike of social media.

It’s a bit ironic, however, that social media about his death blew up when the news hit the streets. It was a wildfire of love.

Examples like these seem to weave a constant thread: Garry Gupton —“Bobby loved Taylor County and her people. He was a strong supporter and encourager of me as I chased my broadcasting career. Through his reporting, he introduced us to many remarkable people, none more so than the author himself. Thank you Bobby for all those you served!”

And Anthony Epps — “Sad day for the Campbellsville/Taylor County Community and all area teams with the passing of Sports Editor Bobby Brockman. I have known him since my playing days at Marion (County) and have the utmost respect for him. #RIP MY FRIEND! Lost for words right now!”

Bobby turned me on to the GE Super Radio. He claimed it could pick up stations no other radio could. So, I bought one.

I never got the same level of service he did. Maybe he was in a better location? He would sit at home at night with his TV set on ESPN and his radio dialed in to a baseball game in St. Louis, or Chicago, or Cincinnati.

I don’t think either of us ever picked up a station in California. But Bobby had a friend — Jonathan Moore — who lives there and is an associate professor of cinema arts at Vanguard University.

Moore attended Campbellsville Middle School but graduated high school in 1988 from Lincoln County where his dad, Nelson, was coach. Moore always claimed Campbellsville as his home and he went on to play college basketball. Somehow, he and Bobby became close friends — mostly from 2,000 miles apart.

“I loved him so very much,” said Moore in a message from his cell phone. “When my basketball career faltered and ended — he didn't care. He was still my friend, like always.

“For more than 30 years, you could count on him always being there, reporting, writing and taking pictures of our city’s and schools’ beloved children, university athletes and others. If you wanted to know something about local sports, he was the only one to consult.”

While unsuccessfully trying to come to terms with his passing, Moore said he had two thoughts.

“One, he was underrated as a writer. I always thought he could have pursued bigger opportunities – in a larger city or for a bigger publication. But Bobby loved the CKNJ, his job and his hometown. He seemed perfectly happy where he was and he often described being the sports editor at the CKNJ as his ‘dream job.’ I believed him when he said that. He loved reporting on local teams, coaches and athletes. It was what he was meant to do, and if anyone ever epitomized small-town sports journalism – it was Bobby Brockman. I learned a lot from observing him and how he approached his career and his daily work. He was a great example of accepting and loving where God puts you – and doing your very best.

“Two, I never heard him say a cross word about anyone – as a friend said to me today. I am so very grateful to have been his friend for so many years. In today’s world, sports fans, sports journalists and others are fickle. One minute you’re the hero and then, the next, after a bad game or an injury or a poorly coached game – you’re the butt of jokes. And therein lies the irony with Bobby: as much love and passion as he had for athletics – he loved you from a deeper level. If you were involved in athletics and you had a relationship with him – you were a friend for life. It didn’t matter if you were the star player or if you rode the bench – he viewed you as a real person, someone who had value and worth beyond athletic success or lack thereof. He seemed to know and understand that sports was a metaphor for life – but not all of life itself. He knew the difference and lived his life accordingly.

“In the end, I won’t think much about Bobby Brockman, the sports editor and writer,” concluded Moore. “His livelihood was sports – but he transcended all that. I will remember Bobby Brockman the man, the person, his quick wit, teasing me and his generous heart. And how much he meant to my family.”

Other media saw what we already knew at the newspaper, and for the past 10 years Bobby handled a sports roundup program each morning on The Big Dawg radio station.

“The newspaper may replace Bobby with a person but will never replace his enthusiasm and his knowledge of sports, both locally and nationally,” concluded Davis. “He devoted his entire career to covering our local kids and the sports that they played. He was one of a kind.”